Tag Archives: mental health

Caught Between a Lull and Quiet Place

I’m sitting here right now, trying to decide what to do with myself. And I don’t mean just on an immediate, here-and-now, should I pick up a controller and play a game or write a story sort of way, though that’s certainly a part of it. I mostly mean it in the sense of what do I do with myself moving forward with my life? I find myself caught in this lull of a place where I’m unable to find work, much as I need and want it. I’m either overqualified for certain positions I’ve applied for or job postings change scope mid-stream so that my application is no longer relevant to the position or maybe I’m just interviewing badly. I don’t really know, but whatever the case is, landing a job has become this herculean task that has started to feel impossible. And it doesn’t help that my anxiety disorder, while much improved from what it was even just a couple of months ago, still limits and prohibits me from taking on work that is fast-paced and high-stress. I’m working on that, trying to retrain my brain to interpret those panicky fight-or-flight signals as excitement and enthusiasm rather than fear and trepidation. But it’s not easy, it’s a process, and it takes time.

I’ve been telling people recently that if there’s one single lesson I’ve learned above all others this past year, it’s patience. When I got out of the hospital last April 28th (yes, exactly one year ago today), I had the expectation that, for the most part, I’d be better and healthy again within six weeks. And guess what? Here I am a year later, much improved but still struggling in some areas. Yes, I do feel healthier and stronger as a person than I have in several years, in spite of the lingering anxiety. I’m more stable and more self-aware than I have been in years. But I’ve also had to learn that healing takes time, it requires patience because it can’t all happen at once, as much as one might want it to. It takes effort and discipline and consistency to change your lifestyle to accommodate the changes in your brain and body and overall physiology. There are new skills to be learned, new coping methods, new ways of thinking and behaving, new habits to form, all the while wrestling and struggling on a daily basis with the depression and anxiety that started this whole mess to begin with. And the medication that is available for treating these disorders is a God-send, but it can’t do it all. You have to do your part, too.

There are plenty of hard days as you work through things, but as you do you find those hard days occur less and less frequently, even if they never go away completely. But you learn how to do self-care, how to be patient with yourself and not blame yourself for regressing, because that’s what it feels like. Going backward. Teaching yourself a healthier form of self-talk is important, catching yourself when your thoughts turn negative and turning them around into something positive. Inserting reminders that your brain is lying to you, that you have worth and value, that people actually do love and care about you. And again, all that takes time to learn and turn into a habit.

And of course, life doesn’t just stop around you and wait for you to catch up. It keeps on traveling by all lickety-split, almost seeming to laugh at you as it does. You find yourself moseying along at what already feels like a break-neck pace but is more like a cripple hobbling along on crutches. You find yourself watching things happen that you want to be a part of — and just can’t right now. And you either have to learn to make your peace with that or give up altogether — and I don’t consider the latter to be an option.

So I find myself caught between a lull, where I can’t find work and have trouble sometimes finding ways to occupy my free time, and what feels like a never-ending quiet place, because it feels like nothing is ever going to change. I fight impatience on a daily basis, both to continue finding victory over my anxiety and with the frustrating process of finding an employer who will hire me. I also face discouragement and loneliness and criticism — and facing all those things down demands patience. I’ve been learning more and more over the last several months to lean on my faith and rely on my God, trusting that He has a plan for all this and that it’s part of His plan for me right now to be exactly here. It’s a difficult thing to accept most days, but it is what it is and there’s nothing for me to do but accept it and continue to be patient, to wait on His plan. His timing is perfect, his plan for me is flawless, and I just have to trust and hope and wait.

It’s a journey and a process, and I continue to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and sometimes even one breath at a time.

More Than a Figment

There was a time when I thought my anxiety wasn’t real, that it was a figment of my imagination, an emotional ghost conjured by my subconscious to cover up the other mental health issues I deal with on a daily basis. Having a psychology background I have a healthy respect for the way the human brain can deceive itself. My anxiety attacks were infrequent at best and typically over in five minutes or less. They didn’t interfere, so I shrugged them off.

Image by Mariana Zanatta under a Creative Commons license
Image by Mariana Zanatta under a Creative Commons license

Then in April the bottom fell out of my world, and I was hospitalized. Meds were changed. My depression became less severe, almost manageable. One layer of my psyche was pulled back, revealing another layer underneath that I didn’t even know existed. And it was pissed. Boy, was it ever.

Anxiety is new for me. I’ve always been prone to being easily stressed out. But I’ve never been this vulnerable to panic, at least not this way. I view my hospitalization as a pivotal moment in my life. Those four days are when everything changed. It’s like someone flipped a switch in my brain, toggling on a new kind of brain chemistry.

For a while I was still able to pass off my anxiety as circumstantial and irrelevant. I was adapting to sudden and jarring changes in my life situation. I was on new medications that my body needed to get used to. I’d lost my job and was freaking out about not being able to help provide for my kids. I was ‘out’ as an atheist and everyone close to me suddenly knew I’d lost my faith. These are the things I told myself to explain my anxiety and the frequent increases in heart rate and palpitations I felt.

The last couple of days have changed that for me. Life the last month or so has mostly stabilized. I’m getting better sleep now. I’m starting to look for work again. In short, my stress levels as a whole have dropped.

And yet, I step outside into the heat, and my anxiety skyrockets. I worked a baseball game last night for four hours. In a heat index approaching 100 degrees. Over a hot grill. And my heart rate was ridiculously high for most of that four hours. Prompted entirely by physical stress. That was the moment when I realized that my anxiety is a real condition, a real disorder, not just an addendum to a list of other issues I’m living with. There’s a reason why physical activity feels like a kind of living death, why I struggle so much some days to get my body going.

I’ve been afraid for so long that I’ve simply been deceiving myself somehow, that I’ve been subconsciously looking for ways to escape, that I had my brain convinced that it needed to lie for me and to me. I know now that’s not the case. I think this has simply been lying under the surface for a while and dealing, but it was covered up by the severity of my depression. With that better in hand now, it has simply revealed this additional health issue that I didn’t realize existed, let alone needed to be addressed.

It’s almost a relief, really, even in spite of the fact that it’s physically uncomfortable. I know I can push through it, and I do. Frequently. I know it’s not something I can control. It’s not my fault. I certainly didn’t ask for this. And if I could make it go away, instantly, I would. So it’s something to be managed. I’m already learning how to do that. I have good doctors who can help. I have good friends who support me and to whom I can talk when I need it.

Baby steps, people. My mantra. My philosophy for recovery.

Daily Routine – Grinding for XP

I got up this morning, took my meds like I’m supposed to, ate breakfast because my meds require it, started a load of laundry since it’s that time in the week again. It’s been a week since I started sleep treatments with my CPAP, and it’s clear they have made a significant difference. I sleep through the night now with minimal disruptions. My body is starting to feel better rested, even if I still feel tired much of the time. It’s a different sort of tiredness, though, less bone-weary and more “oh, I’m just in the middle of recuperating from some major illness.” It’s a process, albeit a frustratingly slow one.

My depression and anxiety have been constant companions this entire week. The depression itself has been relatively mild. Instead of crippling, it has presented itself more as a lingering melancholy and physical fatigue. The anxiety has actually been the more onerous condition, what with the random heart palpitations that sometimes make it hard to breathe for several seconds at a time. I see my psychiatrist again next week, and this is something that is definitely going to get addressed.

I’m finally trawling for work. I’ve had to lower my expectations somewhat. Every day is an unpredictable set of variables that make it impossible to know ahead of time what level of functionality I’m going to be at. Some days I can glide through with ease. Others require several hours to get started. Applying for the same kind of white-collar jobs I used to be able to do simply isn’t practical right now. So I’m looking for employment that allows me some flexibility while still providing a steady income stream. I have clocks ticking against me, and I’m beginning to feel a sense of cloying panic creep up that’s stifling.

But I’m making progress. Every day of this journey is new and different. I have had to learn patience and self-forgiveness. I have good people near me who support me and prop me up when I need propping. I take large steps when I can and little steps when I have to.

I’m grinding for XP. Maybe sometime soon I might even level up.

 If I Can Do This

There are days when you wake up with your brain already lying to you, when the regret and the pain and the hurt pile up on you so badly that you find it hard to draw breath, when every bit of your energy and attention is devoted exclusively to counteracting the power of those lies, when you want to just give up — on everything — and go back to bed, when the mantra running constantly through your head is “I can’t do this,” followed closely by “Yes, you can. And you will. Because you have to.”

Today is one of those days.

I still have some fight left in me, but I won’t lie and say I’m not stretched a little thin at the moment, because I am. And I have to go work in just about an hour, and I don’t feel like I can do this. But I will. Because I have to, and because I’m stronger than this.

On Healing, Dreams, and Emotions

I am struggling today. I woke this morning from a dream I can’t remember still somehow feeling sad and melancholy about it. This has been happening to me a lot lately. One of the side effects of the sleep medication I take (a must, if I hope to actually get a restful night’s sleep) is that I very rarely ever remember the dreams I have — which is a pity, because as a creative type I’ve been known to have some truly remarkable dreams. Unfortunately, said medication does not prevent me from experiencing the emotions that remain once the last tatters of the dream are blown away.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve dreamed. A lot. And vividly. Dreams that inspire rich, soul-quaking emotion. But always, almost without exception, the memories of those dreams flee the moment I open my eyes, leaving only the ghosts of their emotions to linger in my heart and mind a while longer. I’m nearly certain that most of these dreams are attempts of my sleeping mind to process the pain of my daily, waking life. Sometimes I’m able to conjure an image here, an impression there that give context to the emotions I’m experiencing. But as often as not, all I’m left with is pain without cause, loss without substance.

I hope as time passes, as my new medication becomes suffused throughout my system, as my therapy and support group sessions become more regular, that my wistful dreaming will become less frequent. I’m working hard at developing a new mental image of myself and who I am — and I feel like I’ve made some small amount of progress in that regard already this past week. I hope new understanding will begin to supplant the uncertainty and fear and despair I have felt for so long.

I have more hope now than I’ve had in quite some time and an awareness of a much broader and more diverse support network than I ever knew was available. Thank you, so much, to all of you who have lit candles and come alongside to help me through the dark. It means so much more to me than I can ever say with words.

Four Days in a Psych Ward

Just a few days ago, I was released from the hospital after a four-day treatment program for severe depression and suicidal ideation. This was my first inpatient hospital stay of any kind, and while I wouldn’t exactly describe it as being fun, it was extremely helpful and beneficial. Without it I’m not sure I’d even be alive right now to write about it.

Depression

I’ve battled depression for years. I’ve chronicled some of my experiences here and on Facebook and Twitter. It’s not a condition I’ve ever been particularly shy or embarrassed about. I’m a firm believer that we need a more open and honest discourse about mental health because so many people wrestle with it on a daily basis.

Over the past few years, my mental health has experienced a steady decline. My depression has become more persistent and acute, and anxiety has joined with it to make my life a daily living hell. These conditions have challenged my life, which I nearly took, and my faith, which I gave up. It has put significant pressure on my family and my work life, as well. This is not uncommon for people who have dealt with prolonged mental illness.

Had it not been for the intervention of a friend who grew concerned about me, who called me at the end of a weekend where I’d been trapped in my own bed and urged me to get help, who made all the arrangements for me to get into a hospital to get the treatment I needed, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. She literally saved my life, so close was I to making a terrible and irreversible decision.

And I didn’t want to go. All I wanted was to die, to relieve myself and my family of the burden that was my psychosis. At least then I could have peace, knowing that my family could actually move on and have a better life without me dragging them down. In my mind freeing them from the cancer of myself would greatly outweigh the horror of losing me to suicide.

But that was depression’s voice talking in my head, lying to me, convincing me of my worthlessness, reminding me of all the poor coping methods I’d chosen and bad decisions I’d made. Depression is a disease of the brain that alters the way you think, the way you see the world, the way you see yourself. It twists and distorts things so that you can’t determine fact from fiction. Reality loses purchase, and what seeps in instead is a view of life that holds no hope because it is full of unending pain and misery and despair.

I’m thankful for the voice of my friend, who was able to cut through the din long enough to get me out of bed and into a hospital, where I could get the help I really needed. It took four days, including several hours of talking with therapists, and a fairly significant change in medications to help me get to a better place mentally and emotionally. I still have a long road ahead, and pieces of my life that need to be picked up and reassembled as best as possible. But I actually feel stronger now and up to the challenge before me.

I know this won’t be the last time I face depression head-on like this and look down into its great, black belly. But I hope that when that happens, I’ll remember that I’m really not alone in this, that there are others out there willing and able to come alongside and help me.

Happiness, That Strangest of Strangers

I felt happy today. So of course it took me a while to recognize it for what it was. I noticed the extra energy first, the increased sense of motivation, the additional drive. My pain levels were the lowest they’ve been in months. The first half of my morning just melted away effortlessly. I was as productive as I’ve ever been and more focused than usual.

It didn’t occur to me until I was working on a couple of Grid Diary entries a few minutes before my counseling appointment that I recognized my positive mental state was something more than ordinary, that it was more than just the bump in my Wellbutrin prescription from a couple of weeks ago finally coming to bear on my brain chemistry. It was here, when I tapped the tile to log my mood as ‘Happy,’ that I realized the feeling as genuine.

This is what happens when true joy and contentment are experienced only rarely. When the sun burns away the clouds, it’s almost blinding. It took my weary eyes a while to see true.

The difference between happiness and depression, that gap, it’s so wide that the happiness itself almost feels like a mental disorder, like mania. On the inside I was bouncing off walls. My mind, my heart, they were ping pong balls, launched at high velocity to bounce wildly off the walls of my soul. It was its own kind of madness, but it was also euphoria.

And almost — almost — that understanding doomed my joy to die. You see, depression has been such a lifelong companion that it has become entrenched. It has dug into my heart and soul and mind, and it is incredibly adept at sabotage. Here, in this moment, I wanted nothing more than to ride this wave of exaltation, and my enemy wanted to tear the wave out from under me. The lies it whispered in my ear were the same insidious lies it has whispered to me for years.

“You may as well stop enjoying this. You know it can’t last.”
“This is frivolity. Happiness is an illusion. Life is not joy. It is pain and suffering.”

But for a wonder, depression held little power over me today. Its lies were weak and ineffective.

So, today has been one of the most pleasant days I’ve had in a good, long while. I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Happiness, don’t be a stranger. You are welcome here anytime.

I Feel Like a Sociopath (The Trouble Is All These Damned Feelings)

There was a time in my life once where I was exceptionally introspective and self-aware. I analyzed my every thought and intention through a microscope and made adjustments as needed to correct faulty thinking. I had a firm faith then, a guide that gave me direction and established a ruler by which I could measure my progress. I was also younger and more idealistic. Depression was a situational condition, not a clinical one, a normal part the turbulence of growing up and learning what it means to become an adult.

Fast-forward almost twenty years to the present me that has wrestled with clinical depression for the better part of a decade. The idealism and optimism of my youth that was convinced I could learn how to be a better person is all but gone. What’s left is a dry husk of a creature that barely manages to get through a day in one piece. No longer is there any hope for betterment and progress. That space is filled now with despair, despondency, anxiety, anger, and fear.

In my counseling session today, I described myself as feeling numb. It was the best descriptor I could think of at the time for the way I feel – or rather, the way I don’t feel. There is a noticeable absence of joy, happiness, hope, peace, and sympathy in my emotional spectrum. So it’s not that I feel numb, exactly. That would imply an absence of all feelings. Rather, what I seem to lack are positive, healthy emotions – those feelings that enable me to relate and connect to other human beings. 

Don’t get me wrong. I care about my family and close friends’ health and well-being. I care that they’re safe and have all their basic needs met. But after that, it’s like I slam into an emotional wall. I know I should care about my relationships. I know I should be investing in those around me, especially my immediate family. But it’s like that part of my heart has been excised, torn out of my chest and replaced with a bundle of pain and emptiness. What’s worse, I miss that part of me that’s missing, but I don’t care enough to find it again.

I’m scraped thin, stretched to my breaking point. There’s only so much of me to go around. I’m barely getting by on the day-to-day, barely surviving. Every minute of every day I have to make the decision to keep breathing. As a result I feel like a sociopath, knowing I should care more about the needs of the people I love but finding myself unable to. I feel like a paper mask, a lie constructed of tissue paper that can be destroyed with only the slightest pressure.

I often wonder what happened to that young idealist. Is he still around somewhere? Does he still exist? If I went looking, would I find him, lost perhaps beneath a seat cushion of my heart or locked away in a hidden vault of my mind? Or would he turn up as a skeleton in a closet, having long ago decayed into bone and dust?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I only know that I feel cold and indifferent, not only to the cares of those nearest to me but to myself, as well. What hope can there be for others when you have lost all hope for yourself?

When Melancholy Becomes Something Else

Earlier this morning, I sent this to Twitter:

It seems I spoke too soon because my mood has deteriorated since then. Tears have been threatening — and occasionally more than threatening — to spill over all morning. It’s frustrating and maddening because feeling like this is so completely pointless. It’s wasted emotion because it’s directed at… nothing. What’s worse is that it’s crippling and destructive, which makes it all the more scary to me because of the way it interferes with daily living.

Depression, when it’s not flattening my affect and overwhelming every single other thing I feel, makes me angry. I feel like I should be above this, better than this, able to mash down on this with ferocity and conviction, able to banish it to the darkest reaches of my mind whenever I like. And yet, I can’t. The damnable thing rears its ugly, vindictive head at the most unexpected — and unwelcome — of times and makes me think and feel things that aren’t actually true. Depression, among its multitude of other vices, is a liar. But even knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to shove aside. Depression also has teeth, and claws, and it has no problem sinking them into the soft, sensitive tissues of my brain and heart where it will hurt the most.

Therapy for me, then, is to write, when I can summon the strength to shove depression aside long enough to do. And so I write, exposed and vulnerable (which is scary in its own right), because it helps me process some of the things I’m feeling. Plus, it’s something I can actually do, instead of allowing the depression to simply have its way with me. So much of depression is about being passive and letting it do whatever the hell it wants to — which is why physical activity is also such good therapy. Activity, doing, is fighting back and refusing to allow the depression to win.

I wish there was more I could do because even doing feels passive when it doesn’t make the depression go completely away. The best I can hope for is survival and subsistence and hope that this thing will not kill me. My mind says it won’t, but my heart declares otherwise. Apparently depression is also cognitive dissonance.

This Weight Upon My Shoulders

Every couple of weeks or so I go through a spell of feeling like the weight of the world is resting solidly on my shoulders. During these times I feel tired and overwhelmed, certain that I’m doing too many things, that my hands are in too many projects. These are the times when I most seriously consider scaling back my activities and obligations in order to retain my sanity (such as it is), such as cutting out certain portions of our farm operations or dropping optional obligations to which I’ve committed.

Photo: rawlands under a Creative Commons license
Photo: hannah k (rawlands) under a Creative Commons license

For some reason, it always takes me a couple of days of this to realize that what I’m experiencing is a mild bout of depression. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like the deep, crippling depression that pushes me into suicidal ideation, and so it takes me longer to identify what’s going on. It also settles in slowly, a bit at a time over several days so that, at first, it simply feels like the kind of exhaustion born out of a busy lifestyle. To add insult to injury, this usually coincides during times of actual sleep deprivation, which is indicative that the two things are actually related. Either way, the feeling of being tired masks the fact that this is really the onset of depression, albeit a minor case. (That really soul-crushing depression typically only happens to me once or twice a year, the first always in January/February during the deepest, coldest part of winter, and once sometimes in the middle of the summer.) These smaller episodes occur more frequently — every two to three weeks — and are usually easier to bear up under, gritted teeth and shortened temper not withstanding.

These minor depressive episodes almost always pass within a couple of days, but while they’re here, this weight — it’s an actual, physical sensation — never leaves my shoulders. Identifying it and talking about it sometimes helps it abate more quickly, sometimes it doesn’t. At the very least, it is always something of a relief to recognize it when it’s happening.